Senator Shehu Sani, an author, playwright and human rights activist, until recently represented Kaduna Central Senatorial District in the National Assembly. In this interview with MUSA PAM he talks about the protracted banditry, kidnapping and Boko Haram activities in Northern Nigeria, and offers some suggestions including the imperative of a Northern Nigeria Security Summit among other issues
What is your view about the level of insecurity in Northern Nigeria?
The Northern part of Nigeria is faced with serious problems and crises which have escalated into mindless violence and bloodshed. In the North today, from the North- West we have been suffering in the hands of bandits and terrorists along with killing our people, raping our women and children and chasing many to the IDPs camps. In the North-Eastern, it is clear that the insurgents, whether the Boko Haram or ISWA are continuously unleashed mayhem, terrorising people, slaughtering people and making some parts of our country ungovernable. In the North-Central there are flashpoints; part of southern Kaduna, Plateau, Taraba, and Benue states, are under consistent attacks and bloodshed mostly associated with religious violence and land disputes. This is a time to call a spade a spade, and not a time to call a spoon a piston. We cannot end the bloodshed and violence in the North without telling ourselves the truth! This is not the North that was bequeathed to us by our founding fathers. We have had leaders in the history of our country in the First Republic who have treated all Nigerians whether Muslim, Christian, Hausas, Nupes, Berom, Fulanis, Kanuris, Tivs and Jukuns as one and the same. The generation of leaders that followed has not helped the course of unity and peace in our country. While speaking in English they will talk about peace, unity and harmony, and while speaking in their native dialects they incite people and promote ethnic Genghis and religious bigotry. It is time for those of us in northern Nigeria, leaders of northern Nigeria to sit down to revive and to reactivate that spirit of oneness and unity that existed in the North, bequeathed to us by our founding fathers. It is unimaginable that the North that used to be the safest and peaceful part of Nigeria has become the theatre of war and violence, ethnic and religious acrimony, clashes and violence. We have lost that spirit of oneness, unity and togetherness.
It is time the North should not be talking simply about national unity. It should be talking about itself: How can we live together, work together and survive together? I think this is what is needed for Northern Nigeria today. Muslims and Christians are no more living in peace; political leaders are inciting one against another. It is time the poor people who always bear the brunt of violence to resist the temptation of being incited against one another. Unity and peaceful coexistence is key.
Southern Kaduna has been soaked in bloodshed in the last few years. How do you think an end can be put to the killings?
The killing in Southern Kaduna is not religious violence; it is purely terrorists unleashing violence and killing innocent people, women and children and displacing them out of their land. It is the fact.
The same people that are killing people in Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto and some parts of Niger State are the same people killing innocent people in southern part of Kaduna. So, if you don’t call it massacre or genocide, what do you want to call it? Is it the party or a mere jamboree? It is time that we put our heads, our hands and our hearts together as people of the North and restore that glory and the glorious past that we lost for what we have today.
Leaders who preside over the state that is multi-religious and multiethnic must demonstrate sense of fairness and justice by giving every religion and every ethnic group the right and sense of belonging in terms of leadership. Nigeria is a multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural state. If God wanted us all to be Muslims, He could have made us all Muslims and if he want us to be Christians He would have made us all Christians.
The two countries in Africa that have been mentioned in the Bible and the Qur’an are Egypt and Ethiopia; and they have been Muslims and Christians thousands of years when our forefathers here Southern part of Sahara are worshipping idols, and today Muslims and Christians in Egypt and Ethiopia are living in peace with each other. Why can’t we do the same here?
What is the major cause of the problems in the North?
The major cause of violence in the North is not only about land or economy, it is not only about how churches and mosques are constructed everywhere. It is about leaders who want to take sides with their own ethnic and religious group as against the other side.
And leaders who want to favour one part of the country or one part of the state as against another part of the state. We need to choose where we want to be heading to as a country. Do we want to head to Somalia, Afghanistan or Yemen? Do we want to head to a country that has become a failed state or do we want to build our country?
I think it is time to tell ourselves the truth. Today, history has called on Northern leaders to bring themselves in the hall and close the doors and windows and tell each other the truth and find a solution to this killings and violence going on in the North. Religious leaders who preach and profess peace should talk to their own followers before talking to any other person, and that is what is most important.
To bring an end to this violence in the North and to also restore peace and order to the northern states, there is a need for leaders like General Yakubu Gowon and General Abdulsalam Abubakar to lead a conference in the North that would bring all the religious leaders, all political leaders together.
Also to be included are traditional rulers, civil society organisations and the likes of General Aliyu Gusau to see how our religious, tribal and ethnic issues in the North would be addressed and draw out a template on what to achieve in the next 10 to 20 years.
The resolutions of this conference should be able to institutionalised in all the state in the Northern Nigeria.
How encompassing do you think such conference should be?
I think this is very important because it will include finding solutions to the issues of banditry and violence in the North –West; finding solutions to the Tiv-Jukun violence between Benue and Taraba states; the perennial crisis in Plateau State, finding solutions to what is happening in Southern Kaduna, and addressing the minority issues and religious disharmony that exist between Muslims and Christians.
I think there’s no body that is better placed to be empowered in all the 19 Northern states and the Federal Government to lead such retreat or conference of all northern leaders, irrespective of the political parties, to find solutions to this problems than the likes of Gen. Gowon; Gen. Abubakar, and other political leaders in the North like Alhaji Aliko Mohammed, and others.
They can all come together and find solutions to these problems. We need to have a document, a working document for peace, harmony, orderliness and end to our religious crisis in the Northern Nigeria and the security challenges as they are. That is my own practical suggestions.
Specifically, respecting Kaduna, what is the way out?
As for Southern Kaduna, the first thing the President needs to do is to give an audience to the leaders of Southern Kaduna, particularly their elders, their leaders, their political leaders, their youths, women and children. The President needs to engage stakeholders, selected leaders from all the local government areas in Southern Kaduna and listen to their problems and find lasting solutions to it.
The next thing the President needs to do about Southern Kaduna, is to set up a presidential committee of not more than six or seven people which will include people like Colonel Danyurman, Lawal Jafaru Isa, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, Martins Agwai, and some few others who have been able to achieve a lot in terms restoring peace and order in Southern Kaduna.
The presidential committee comprising of these people would have to give the President a realistic objective and fair assessment of the problems and practical steps to solve them.
One of the reasons why the problem in Southern Kaduna cannot be solved is that the President only listens to the governor. And the governor and people of Southern Kaduna are not at peace with each other.
That is why those names I have mentioned matter in this regard. And we should also not be confused about the problem of Southern Kaduna.
The killings in Southern Kaduna where bandits and terrorists raid houses, villages, raping women, chuckling children, sending people to IDPs camps is different from four decades of religious violence of Muslim and Christian in the area.
That should not be confused. Because what people are trying to do now, is to say the killings are reprisal, vendetta or revenge. No Muslim is killing a Christian and no Christian is killing a Muslim for now! It is the terrorists that are targeting the people of Southern Kaduna and killing them. So you shouldn’t bring what has happened three to four decades ago and try to justify pure terrorists activities in this part of the state.
Do you buy the view that the North should contest the Presidency come 2023, or are you in support of a southern candidacy?
The political elite in Nigeria are more interested in 2023 permutation than the lives of the people that are being daily wasted in all the regions of Nigeria.
They are marching on corpses to get to 2023 while in 2020. Our rural areas are littered with corpses; our cities have become all same. Peace, order and security are very important in terms of restoring the hope of our people.
But, I have this simple message and I would also on the last note call on our people to revolt against divisive leaders, revolt against agents of destruction and merchants of crisis, revolt against those who are promoting ethnic and religious hate. It is very important that we do that.
Each time you have a political convention you see the whole leaders gather in one stadium but when people are dying you don’t see the same passion in the hearts of Nigerian leaders because it is not their own people that are dying; it is the poor that are being killed. It is impossible today to move in some parts of our country because those outside forces have taken over territories that are supposed to be under the control of government and that is unfortunate.
Is it the same country that sent forces to Congo? Is it the same country that sent forces to Liberia? Is it the same country that sent forces to Sierra Leone?
Is it the same country that has been commended for restoring peace and order in many countries in Africa, but it is unable to protect and defend its own borders?
I think these are questions we need to ask ourselves. What is really happening? Resources are not the problem of our security
and defense. As a former senator I know there is always enough resources given to our security forces in terms budgetary allocations released to them. If poor countries like Chad, Niger Republic, Cameroon, Benin Republic, Togo Code d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso can protect their country with a budget that is less than two states in Nigeria what is wrong with our country?
We need to ask questions. Algeria is two times the size of Nigeria. If the government of Algeria can protect the borders of Algeria, why is it so difficult for our own government to protect our own country?
So these are questions that need to be asked. In summary, the most challenging issue before the Nigerian state today is of immediate importance. The immediate and important question is that of peace, security and unity. The Northern part of Nigeria today is evidently disunited.
Divisive forces are in control of the affairs of the state. People in the North are more polarized along religious and ethnic sentiment than before and it has never been this bad in the history of our country. People are ready to kill and die in the name of religion and ethnicity and are not ready to die in the name of their own country.
We have lost that spirit of togetherness, oneness, love, brotherhood that have been bequeathed to us by our founding fathers. We see ourselves as Muslims and Christians and there is nothing wrong with that.
What is wrong with that is that people in leadership positions must treat every Nigerian irrespective of ethnic and religious background, with fairness, equity and justice. But when you don’t have equity, fairness and justice already the seed of disharmony, acrimony and violence has already been planted. If you’re a Muslim leader, be fair to Christians and if you’re a Christian be fair to Muslims.
That is the way to have peace. If you’re in a state that is multi-religious or with multiple minorities show justice, equity and fairness to the minorities, that is the part to peace. All the prominent religious in Nigeria claimed to profess peace and unity but most times political leaders use religious leaders to condemn crisis and violence.
But no matter how you preach peace and unity, you can’t treat some citizens living in you state or indigenes with deceit and think you are going to have peace. There is no peace. You must show everyone justice.
If we were to go by the template of Sardauna of Sokoto, the man who presided over the affairs of the whole North, whom nobody, whether Christian or Muslim, can show one house that he owned in Kaduna where he was born; we were born in Kaduna but you can’t show a house or farm owned by the Sardauna; We don’t know!
So, if such a person can demonstrate fairness, equity and justice those who are claiming to be his disciples should also demonstrate that.
Do you think the South should produce the next president of Nigeria?
It is not about competence versus rotational presidency or about democracy and rotational presidency. It is preserving the union, preserving the country. It is unsafe and dangerous for one section of the country to dominate the affairs of the nation for decades all in the name of democracy. It is unfair, unjust and threat to our national unity. If we said the national flag, the national anthem belongs and the national pledge belongs to all of us, let there be a practicalisation of those things that we believe are ours.
We can have a democracy and a rotational presidency, at the same time as much as one part of country is able to produce a leader; it is fair and just for another part of the country to produce a leader. It is unfair to say because you are Igbo, Berom, Nupe, Kanuris; and so because you are not the majority, so you cannot be President of the country. It is only when there is a country you can have democracy. It is only when there is a country you can be proud of saying I have an ethnic group and say I am the majority. If you don’t have a country where will you use to measure territory, your numbers and population?
I think that should be clearly understood But, the shift of power from the North to the South is possible under these conditions I am going to give. It is only possible if all the major political parties have resolved to bring their candidate from southern part of the country. If one political party brings it candidate from the North and the other one from South then you can expect that anything can happen! So, this is not about the party thing but about the unity of our country.
It is unfair for one part of the country to think that God has ordained them the right to always produced leaders because they are more in number. It is wrong for you to think that. As far as I am concerned, it is fair that all the geo- political zones in Nigeria get to that position. Since the North is in power, it is fair for South to be in power next.
But people always have to ask, should we go for South- West, South-South or South-East?
That is for the people of Southern region to decide for themselves who is going to be in power 2023.
But you shouldn’t forget the historical disharmony and trumpet of disunity in Nigeria. The truth is that the South-East and the South-West are always in battle with the North.
So, first condition is that power should move to the South easily if the two political parties have all resolved to keep Nigeria one, united and rules of rotation of power. It is also possible if people of the South put their house in order and resolve that this is how is going to be.
What is your take on the recent NBC fine on a radio station in respect alleged hate speech, free speech and free press in Nigeria?
The right to express an opinion is fundamental, constitutional and also legal. Democracy guarantee you, enables you to freely express yourself.
Freedom of speech and of assembly is one right that has been used by the people who are in the position of power today to assume the position of leadership. I believe that if the past administrations were so vicious, cruel and despicable in terms of attacks on freedom expression we could have not been able to be where we are today.
As an activist, I can remember one of the reasons we stood and fought the military is the dictatorship of this country is the right to restore democracy to Nigeria. And democracy means rule of law, respect for the fundamental human rights and constitutionalism. If Nigerians have reached a stage where they are afraid of expressing themselves then we are already in a dictatorship!
Fundamental rights especially the right to freedom of speech usually irritate those who are in position of authority. But you are in the position of power and undermine fundamental right, you deny people the right to express their opinion, and bring out policies and laws that trample criticisms and silence the society, you are breaking down the shield that would protect you after power.
People who are in the position of power have immunity of power today should know that a time would come when they would be out of power and it is that rule of law that would protect them. It is that rule of law that would protect their children, their wives and families. If they destroy the rule of law today they would be the first victim of it after immunity.
It is the fact! If you impose a N5million fine for hate speech which are usually criticisms that are unpalatable, you should know that a time would come when you are out of the leadership and stand to express your own opinion. If you find yourself in the position of power you should strengthen the rule of law, strengthen the pillars of democracy because at the end of the day when you are out of the privileges and insulation of power that would only be your succour, that would only be your shield and that would only be your protection.
Whether you are a President today, a governor, a minister, a senator, there would be a time when you will be addressed as former. You will be in your house without security, without immunity and without protection. And you will be at the mercy of those who would be in power at that very time. And in general sense, as I always said, President Muhammadu Buhari should always be concerned about his legacies in office. And he should know it that his achievements on ground that would speak for him.
After May 29, 2023, he would not count on any loyalists, whether he is a governor, or a party member or an aide to speak for him. Most of those who spoke for Ibrahim Babangida are no more; most of those who spoke for Sani Abacha are no more speaking for him. Most of those who spoke for Olusegun Obasanjo are no more speaking for him.
Most of those who spoke for Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua and Goodluck Jonathan are no more speaking for them. In fact many of them have turned their backs against their former bosses. President Buhari should not be deceived by loyalists who would lead him astray. They can only speak and defend him when they are in position of power.
By the time he is out of power and has return either to Kaduna or Daura. He will never see anybody writing any article to defend Mr. President; he should be concerned about his legacies.
About 2023, that should be power shrink in a multi-religious and multiethnic like this, it is important to understand the reality about the history of our crisis and never repeat the same mistake again. We cannot deny the fact that religion, ethnicity, sectionalism and particularly nepotism are the serious threat and impediment to the unity of our country.